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Outdoor Pursuits

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2013

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Karen Bradley.)

It is not often that the indoor activity of parliamentary debate focuses on participation in outdoor pursuits, so I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for selecting and granting this debate on this important subject. I am also grateful for the presence of the Minister of State because I know that today has been particularly heavy for him and his Department, and thank him for being willing to respond to the debate.

I also want to draw Members’ attention to the register of all-party groups and say for the record that I am co-chairman of the all-party group on mountaineering, vice-chairman of the all-party group on mountain rescue —it is good to see members of both those groups present—and secretary of the all-party group on national parks.

I am a passionate participant, when time and this job permit, in outdoor pursuits. I am also a great supporter of the Government’s efforts to increase participation in sports and sports-related activity. I believe that outdoor pursuits play a vital role, which is sometimes undervalued, in achieving that aim. The health and well-being benefits associated with participation in those pursuits are clear for all to see.

There are also economic benefits. Increasing the volume and value of tourism in the great outdoors, particularly activity and adventure tourism, is of fundamental importance to the Government’s wider strategy for jobs and growth, for the lasting Olympic legacy and for rebalancing the UK economy in favour of many rural communities.

It is right to put the spotlight on activity and adventure tourism in particular, because I believe that this sector has the greatest as yet unexploited potential for sustainable economic growth and jobs.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Buxton adventure festival was held in my constituency of High Peak only last year and that more than 800 people attended it? I tend to agree with him—we have neighbouring constituencies that have a lot in common—that the outdoor pursuits available in our constituencies, which are coterminous in many ways, are a fantastic thing for both tourism and local people.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I see that the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), is nodding her head. She represents Leek and these things are vital for our community. I have met the organiser of the Buxton festival in the past and it is a tremendous initiative showing what can be done to move things forward and help jobs and growth in our rural communities.

The experiences associated with outdoor pursuits, such as hill walking, rock climbing and mountaineering, are real and tangible. If we add mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing and even ghyll scrambling, we will see that there is huge potential that needs to be exploited.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this issue to the House. He mentioned the outdoor pursuits of hill walking, mountain climbing and so on but, on country sports and, indeed, shooting sports, does he agree that the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation could work with young people to give them opportunities in those adventure sports?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important contribution and I think that Members of all parties would agree that there is room for those activities as well. Debates about them are quite frequent—they have been in the past anyway—and today I want to put the spotlight on other outdoor pursuits, but there is definitely work to be done in that regard, too.

There is a lot to do. My contribution is less about having my head in the clouds and more about having—in the best traditions of mountaineering—a summit in mind and a determination to reach it.

According to VisitBritain’s most recent edition of Foresight—issue 111—the Olympic and Paralympic games have already massively improved the nation’s brand, with 99% of international communications experts saying that the games have helped tremendously to move our brand forward. We need to build on that extraordinary momentum, which the Minister himself was pivotal in making possible. He will know, no doubt, that, while we are ranked fourth in the world as a tourist destination—primarily for our culture and heritage—we are a very disappointing 18th with regard to the rich natural beauty of our outdoors, and that that is an improvement on where we were before the Olympics. A lot of work needs to be done.

Given that the North Downs way runs through the Minister’s constituency, he will appreciate that our national trails are a very important aspect of what we have to offer and they need to be cherished.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Ramblers Association plays a vital role, especially the north Cheshire branch? Is he aware of Helsby hill in my constituency and, indeed, the Sandstone trail, which are significant for weekend walkers?

I am well aware of them and have climbed on Helsby crag myself. Those are important trails. Ramblers play an important role, as do many other organisations, such as the British Mountaineering Council, which I will talk about in a minute.

There is more to be done. When VisitEngland speaks to visitors within the UK, it is clear that visitors do not know what the options are. Somebody said in one focus group:

“I was struggling to think of places I wanted to go to, because I don’t know the country, what’s all this in the middle?”

There is the Peak district and the Pennines for a start, as well as many other wonderful places. We need to get the word out and help people understand what is going on. We need to provide opportunities for the sun seekers to come and find winter excitement and enjoyment in the UK. People need to have access to information. The Minister’s Department has an important role to play in that.

We are making Britain a more welcoming place, but we need to find a way of making our outdoors more welcoming. The new “Walkers are Welcome” initiative is certainly doing that. It has created a number of welcoming destinations for walkers, which currently total 100. That will be important in putting the focus on that activity.

This debate is not just about tourism; it is about sports-related activity. Interestingly, hill walking and mountaineering is one of only four sports that are growing in participation. Indoor rock climbing is seeing explosive growth, particularly among younger people. It is incredible to see that. Climbing is one of five or six sports that have been shortlisted for inclusion as an Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee will make a decision on 7 September. Perhaps the Minister will consider that bid, offer advice and support that aim.

I have the privilege of representing Aberconwy, which includes Coed y Brenin, part of the main Plas y Brenin mountaineering centre. There is a perception that these sports are for the middle classes. Through the outdoor partnership, the Plas y Brenin centre is trying to make young school children feel that this is something that people in their local area are involved in. Participation has grown significantly as a result.

Absolutely. I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate supporter of Plas y Brenin and other outdoor activities in his constituency. I am grateful for that, as are other people. As he says, it is vital that these activities are not only for middle-income groups and older people, but for people across the age ranges. These pursuits can be enjoyed throughout a person’s life, unlike other elite or competitive sports. It is vital to involve younger people.

The health and well-being aspects of outdoor pursuits are clear for everybody to see. It is important to note, as Change4Life has pointed out, that regular activity reduces the risk of early mortality by more than 30%, and yet only 6% of men and 4% of women aged 16 and over meet the Government’s recommendation. Outdoor pursuits can help to tackle that.

Given the benefits, which my hon. Friend has outlined so well, does he agree that this debate is as much about outdoor education as it is about outdoor entertainment? Would it not be good if the Department of Health and the Department for Education were represented on the Front Bench too, because they have as much at stake in this matter as the Minister’s Department?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and important point. I would love to see Ministers from both those Departments here. However, it has been a long day and I am grateful that we have the Minister with responsibility for sport and tourism in the Chamber.

Thank goodness we have organisations such as the Scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme that engage young people, places such as Plas y Brenin and the Manchester climbing centre that engage people who are disadvantaged or who have disabilities, and charities such as the David Lewis Centre that get involved in these pursuits and allow people to expand their horizons.

I know that the hon. Gentleman and I share a love of the outdoors. I agree with the interesting points that he has been making. Does he agree that volunteers have a vital role to play in making the outdoors accessible, especially to young people? Barbara Green runs a Duke of Edinburgh’s award open group in Clifton in my constituency, which not only provides young people with fantastic experiences, but gives them skills and confidence that can help them to thrive in education, as well as a great love of the outdoors.

The hon. Lady—my friend—makes an important point. When we were on Snowdon back in September, we saw a group of Asian girls from London on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme making their first trip up. Those are the sorts of experiences we want to promote and encourage.

Forgive me, but I need to make some progress, because we also want to hear from the Minister.

Progress has been made. The Minister has met the British Mountaineering Council and he supported the first ever reception for the Great Britain climbing team here, with the great Dame Kelly Holmes. That was an outstanding event, for which I thank him. We have also had the launch of Britain on Foot, an important scheme that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), came and supported, so the participation is there. Britain on Foot in particular is a scheme that we need to get behind. It is an amalgamation of groups, including trusted campaigners such as the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers—which we have already heard about—the Camping and Caravanning Club and, of course, the National Trust, along with 200 businesses involved in the outdoor industry and related matters. Those groups are vital. The public launch is in May and there will be three major projects: “Get Britain walking” week, led by the Ramblers, the “Outdoor adventure” week and the National Trust’s “50 things to do” week, which will encourage younger people to get involved.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and also on being a Sport and Recreation Alliance’s sports parliamentarian of the year. I heartily agree with his comments about Britain on Foot and how people can get out and enjoy our countryside. Does he agree that one way people can get out is on their bikes and that we should encourage cycling as a way of enjoying outdoor pursuits?

As a former resident of Harrogate, I appreciate how important cycling is in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I have often seen him out in the hills enjoying the great sights—when he has any time and is not campaigning, of course. He is absolutely right: these are important pursuits to support.

Britain on Foot is ahead of us, so momentum is building. We have heard about volunteers doing their work, creating the Bollington walking festival and walking festivals elsewhere across the country. Let us get behind those things. The Government are moving forward on the Olympic legacy with the “Adventure is Great Britain” campaign, which is now an important pillar of that legacy. I hope we will hear about that from the Minister.

I commend my hon. Friend’s leadership of the all-party group on mountaineering, of which I am proud to be a member. The legacy is important, yet we are talking about things that are not necessarily seen as organised sport, but which are wonderful ways of getting involved, getting engaged and keeping fit, so we must ensure that they are included in all the plans. I am delighted to support the Britain on Foot campaign with him.

I thank my hon. Friend. It is encouraging to see support from all the different parties across the House. I think we are all united on this issue, which makes such a big difference to people throughout their lives. I recognise the work he does in various sports, including rugby league. The activities that we are talking about can make a difference across people’s lives.

I would like the Minister to focus on three things—if he is in agreement—as he looks at this great, hidden gem, in this Aladdin’s cave of opportunity for British tourism. First, we would like him to recognise the important role—which we all recognise—that opportunities for outdoor pursuits play in our rural communities for participation in sport and for health and well-being. Secondly, we also very much hope that he will be able to spend time meeting a group of people from the outdoor organisations we have talked about and the industry, to consider how to come up with pragmatic plans—which will hopefully fit with some of his that are already in place—to move the agenda forwards. Finally, we urge him to ensure that his Department and the related bodies, including VisitBritain, VisitEngland and, for that matter, English Heritage, give their full support to the Britain on Foot in the campaign over the months ahead. It is interesting to note that President Obama is supporting such initiatives in the States. The US has a “Great outdoors” month. I am not particularly competitive —not much—but I think we could do a lot more, a lot better than the US. The ideas we have discussed this evening would be great for that.

I want to end by recognising the huge contribution made by some of this country’s great adventurers, such as Bonington and Whillans—all these great climbers—but let us focus on Whymper, who was the first to climb the Matterhorn, in 1865. He said:

“There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell, and with these in mind I say, climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

Determined and inspired words, and hopefully from my remarks tonight the Minister will feel a similar resolve to reach new summits in sports and the other activities mentioned today. The view from the top? Enduring economic benefits and the improved health of our nation. It is surely a climb worth making.

At the start of what I think is my seventh hour in the Chamber today, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for initiating this debate on the important role that participation in outdoor pursuits can play in supporting tourism, health, well-being and sports-related activity.

The Government recognise that tourism is a cornerstone of growth. We also recognise the role that tourism plays in rural economies, and within that the role that outdoor pursuits such as camping, hill walking, climbing and outdoor adventure play in underpinning key local tourism economies. The GREAT campaign, run from the Prime Minister’s office, celebrates the UK’s rich heritage and contemporary culture, our people and places to visit, as well as our great commercial strengths. Outdoor leisure is a key element of that campaign as it enables us to promote the United Kingdom as a fantastic destination for adventure and exploration.

Officials in my Department are exploring the possibility of linking the campaign with other areas of Government activity, such as the Department of Health’s Change4Life scheme. Across the piece, VisitBritain’s greatest ever global tourism campaign, supported by GREAT, is expected to bring in 4.6 million extra visitors, £2.3 billion additional spend, and create nearly 60,000 jobs over four years. Analysis has shown that investment in GREAT to date is projected to help generate around a quarter of a billion pounds for the British economy over the next two years. The rural economy is well placed to benefit from that investment.

I was delighted to be at King’s Cross station to welcome the new Discover Leeds tourism campaign. It has received regional growth funding, which is marvellous. Will the Minister acknowledge the important role and opportunity provided by Britain on Foot to get people walking in urban and suburban areas? We have a great example in the Meanwood valley trail that goes from Leeds city centre through my constituency, nature reserves and parks, to connect with the countryside. The scheme applies to all areas.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and—I say this every time—for the work he has done on the rugby league world cup. I am sorry that I was not able to join him this morning—the reason is obvious: the Bill—but I acknowledge his contribution. The scheme has been incredibly successful, and a key objective of much of the reconstitution work around the Olympic park was to create such walking trails. Indeed, I led quite a lot of work last year to ensure that the full commitments on the cycling area are upheld when the track is reconstituted after the games.

In tandem with the VisitBritain investment, VisitEngland has a £25 million campaign, including “Holidays at Home Are GREAT”, which is expected to create more than 12,000 jobs, with £500 million extra spent by tourists between 2011 and 2015.

The current economic climate is, of course, making life hard for many communities and businesses, so apart from GREAT, what are the Government doing to help? There is specific Government support. For example, VisitEngland includes the promotion of outdoor activity in its work with the support of the regional growth fund and investment from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield will be pleased to hear that it is entirely supportive of the aims of the Britain on Foot campaign, as they align with increasing activity in the great outdoors and the subsequent economic benefit for tourism businesses. VisitEngland recognises the connection between increased outdoor activity-related tourism and increased sales of outdoor clothing and equipment. The agenda of the Outdoor Industries Association and Britain on Foot is very much aligned with VisitEngland’s strategic framework for tourism in England. Its focus on modernising the rural offering and getting younger people in particular interested in outdoor experiences will ultimately benefit the rural economy.

My constituency has the Pennine way running through it, Brontë country, Top Withens and Ilkley moor—I will not sing the song. It is a great privilege to be part of that fantastic countryside, but its economy is important and the money that the Minister is speaking of is important in stimulating the economy. Does he recognise the importance of the rural service economy?

It has been quite a day for me, moving from the same-sex marriage debate to Ilkley moor, but I enthusiastically endorse what my hon. Friend says.

Hon. Members will be pleased that mountaineering is receiving £3 million through Sport England’s whole sport plans from 2013 to 2017. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced a £2 million fund for the creation of new permanent access rights within a £25 million package to promote rural tourism and support rural tourism businesses, following the rural economy growth review in 2011. The paths for communities scheme funded by the rural development programme for England aims to develop and enhance the rights of way network to the benefit of the local economy by funding projects developed by local communities.

How should people get to those great outdoor places? Rural transport is important, particularly for young people and people on low incomes who might not have access to a motor car. Has the Minister discussed that with his colleagues in the Department for Transport?

In all honesty, the answer is no, but that is an extremely good point and I will ensure we follow it up. If the hon. Lady is happy for me to write to her, I will do so. Part of the attraction of many places is that they are remote. It is important that we open them up, particularly to young people, while maintaining the correct balances.

In the past 12 months, the Government have announced that £107 million will be made available during this Parliament for cycling. That included last month’s announcement of a fund worth up to £12 million being made available to local authorities working in partnership with the national parks to improve conditions for cyclists.

What else has happened? Access, through rights of way and open access, is probably the best it has ever been in England. Access is incredibly important for the economy, and we can be very proud of our network of national trails, which can be important generators for local business. For example, university of Exeter research shows that the south-west coast path generates around £300 million a year for the economy of the region and supports around 7,500 jobs.

Natural England is committed to increasing the number and range of people who can experience and benefit from the natural environment, and it is leading on the Government’s ambition that everybody should have fair access to a good-quality natural environment. It is championing “Outdoors for All” and the natural environment on behalf of the Government and ensuring that the green-space volunteering and heritage sectors work side by side with partners to help to improve the quality of everybody’s experience of natural places.

I will touch on two of the issues my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield mentioned in a minute, but first let me say that the Olympic legacy has been making an impact on health and well-being since we won the bid back in 2005. If he had told me that might happen on that happy night in Singapore when we were celebrating the success of the bid, I would have replied that that wonderful ambition was unlikely to be realised, but since the bid to stage the games was won in 2005 we have managed to ensure that more than 1.5 million more people are playing sport regularly. That is a remarkable achievement and one that no other host nation has managed.

Sport England and the Department of Health are working together to align programmes to support those who are least active. We have recently had an opportunity for interested organisations to apply to the “Get Healthy, Get into Sport” fund. The fund is seeking to improve the evidence base on the role of sport to engage inactive people—many of whom, I suspect, would be attracted by precisely the activities my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield is advocating—and produce the right type of information that is of interest to those who commission public health programmes.

Let me touch on two issues my hon. Friend mentioned. I always get asked about International Olympic Committee votes. It is important to say that the only people who vote on which sports go into the mix—he is absolutely right, the vote is in the September IOC session in Buenos Aires—are the IOC members, and they are extremely resistant to pressure from Government to get sports in and out. A number of sports are trying to get in this time around, some of which would do us, as a country, quite a lot of good, so we would like to see them in. The advice to mountaineering—indeed, the advice I would give to any sport—is that it is important to take a strategic long-term view. Mountaineering may be lucky in 2020, but if it is not, the sport’s representatives need to keep plugging away, because the programme changes regularly. Even in London, we could sense that there were some sports that may not have a long-term future in the summer games. There is a case for mountaineering in either the winter or the summer games; as there is a place for it in both, it is well worth plugging away at the strategic level.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take confidence from what I have said. I absolutely acknowledge the opportunities for outdoor pursuits, and I would be delighted to meet the organisations he mentioned. If he does not mind, could he give me a month while we get this uncontroversial little piece of legislation through Parliament? I give him my assurance that I will ensure that the arm’s-length bodies give full support to the Britain on Foot initiative.

Mr Speaker, thank you for remaining with us for most of these seven hours—

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) raised the issue of using outdoor pursuits in education. Will the Minister give a commitment to work with the Department for Education to achieve that?

I think at this stage of the evening I might just say, “Indeed, yes. Trust me, it will be done.”

In conclusion, and before I go off and make my final speech of the evening outside the Chamber, I will finish by confirming that through many of the initiatives in place, the Government recognise entirely the important role that informal outdoor activity and sport-related activity play in supporting tourism and the health and well-being agendas. There is a unique opportunity to market this country, and we have seen the effects already, with an increase in visitor numbers post-2012. The hon. Gentleman and others can be assured that outdoor pursuits will play a key part in that process.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.